NYC Transit says goodbye to the "Big Blues & Whites"

May 8, 2019
The final RTS buses have been retired at NYCT, making way for a more modern fleet to better serve customers.

Riders and transit professionals in New York City bid farewell to the last of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit Rapid Transit Series (RTS) buses on May 6. The final RTS run in Midtown and Lower Manhattan ends a near 40-year run of the blue and white buses. 

The RTS buses have been replaced by a fleet of modern, low-emissions buses that include hybrid and zero-emissions vehicles, which NYC Transit says will allow it to better serve customers. 

“One of the cleanest bus fleets in the world is now getting cleaner with the retirement of this model as we push on with the latest technologies including zero-emission electric buses,” said NYC Transit President Andy Byford. “We’re working hard to improve bus service and win back customers, and a state-of-the-art fleet is key to that endeavor.”

The fleet of RTS buses were a well known sight in the city with NYCT noting that generations of New Yorkers have grown up riding the buses on city streets.

“We’re passing the torch to the next generation of modern buses, including all-electric models, that are setting the standard for transit agencies around the country and allowing us to better serve our customers,” said MTA Bus Company President and NYC Transit Senior Vice President of Buses Darryl C. Irick. “Both my father and I drove the ‘Big Blues & Whites’ during our careers at New York City Transit, so the retirement of the RTS fleet is a nostalgic moment for my family.” 

The first RTS bus was put into service as a demo in 1979. A fleet of nearly 4,900 RTS buses eventually served routes in every borough and operated out of nearly every NYC Transit and MTA Bus Company depot across the city. The buses even played a role in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when NYC Transit sent several of the buses down to Georgia to help transport crowds. 

The RTS bus fleet was built by GMC Truck and Coach Division, TMC and Nova Bus, and were ordered between 1981 and 1999. All RTS buses were equipped with wheelchair lifts making NYC Transit the first major public transit agency to have a 100 percent accessible bus fleet. 

The RTS bus fleet was also used to test alternative fuels in the 1990s such as Compressed Natural Gas and methanol. NYC Transit says it now has one of the cleanest fleets in the world with nearly 1,700 hybrid-electric buses, 745 CNG buses, 10 all-electric buses and more than 3,000 clean diesel buses.

NYC Transit is continuing to pursue an even greener bus fleet, with the recent purchase of the MTA’s first all-electric articulated buses. The MTA Board awarded a contract to New Flyer of America Inc. for 15 60-foot Xcelsior CHARGE buses, 16 in-depot chargers and one mobile charging unit. This new contract for the articulated buses, which are higher-capacity 60-foot-long buses used on Select Bus Service as well as on higher ridership routes, makes MTA New York City Transit one of the first public transit systems in the country, and the nation’s largest public bus network, to use zero-emissions technology on these larger, heavier vehicles that, in turn, require more power to operate.

The MTA says it allocated funding to purchase a total of 60 all-electric buses in its current capital program, with many more to come in the future. Transit officials are ultimately pursuing a zero-emissions fleet, pending the viability of electric propulsion and charging technologies being tested in depots and on city streets right now.

Under the latest electric bus contract, New Flyer will install the in-depot charging equipment beginning in July, followed by the delivery of the first new bus in September. Delivery of all the buses is scheduled for completion in January 2020, with an incentive for earlier delivery. Once delivered, these buses will be put in service on 14th Street, where NYC Transit has enhanced bus service to provide robust alternate crosstown service during the L Project.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.